YFZ Revisited – April 17, 2008 – Hearing Begins

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Officers outside the Tom Green County Courthouse to provide security for the mandatory 14-day custody hearing for over 400 children removed from the FLDS Church’s YFZ Ranch.

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People began arriving pretty early. I had met this woman the day before when we poked our heads into her SUV. She stood outside the courthouse for a brief moment while the man she walked in with (her attorney?) talked with some reporters.

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Two very different emotions in the photo above and the one below, considering that she would either have her kids returned or kept in custody in the hearing to follow.

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In walk the attorneys for the FLDS: Rod Parker, “spokesman” Willie Jessop, Richard Wright, Bruce Griffen (he’s back there somewhere).

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I love the look on her face after wading through the media, who gathered in a pack at this entryway. Doesn’t she look calm in contrast to their frenzy?

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Out of the 400+ attorneys who came to the hearing to represent all sides, Susan Hays was the only one who stopped to talk. She became a regular fixture in news reports on the case. If she was a cartoon character, her catchphrase would be, “I won’t talk about my client.”

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The line began to form outside the courthouse, and pretty soon it stretched halfway across the block.

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YFZ Revisited – April 14, 2008 – Marie

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Last post from the media availability with FLDS women on the YFZ Ranch after they were removed from their children by CPS. This is Marie, who had three children taken in from her earlier in the day.

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From Marie’s personal account of the raid:

We loaded into vehicles and came right to Grandfather’s home. We immediately met with some of the attorneys. They asked us if we wanted to give our stories. About 5:30, they let the media in, and we gave our stories by Grandfather’s house. Our emotions were high, and the experience was fresh on our minds.

That night we slept on some bunk beds at the Big House. That bed felt good! My thoughts continually turned to my three boys. I yearned unto the Lord that they would not feel that I had forsaken them, for as I walked back to famous side room, I thought, “I’d rather die than have them take these precious children from me. I’d rather fight to the death then let them do that.” But the Heavenly Father had a different plan, and I have learned that His ways are best.

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After she had talked with several reporters, a concerned Rod Parker walked over and told Marie to head upstairs, for her own sake. She was obviously spent. You can read Marie’s personal account of the raid at this link.

YFZ Revisited – April 14, 2008 – The Balcony

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(For the record, that’s a composite panoramic of several photographs.)

During the media availability with FLDS women whose children had been taken by CPS at the YFZ Ranch, the balcony overlooking the scene was a sort of time out box. When they were done reliving their stories to reporters, they could go up the stairs and be away from us.

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YFZ Revisited – April 14, 2008 – Stories Told

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As the media availability on the YFZ Ranch continued, the FLDS women were very emotional telling their personal accounts of being separated from their children by CPS earlier that day.

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Not only the Kleenex, look at the body language in the fingers.

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The reporter from People Magazine spoke a lot to this group of women:

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They seemed to be speaking more about their lifestyle than about losing their children, though I can’t be sure— it wasn’t my interview. I wondered if they would get the cover over Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie.

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These two were posing for the photographer People Magazine had hired:

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And this is the moment when he took the shot that put them on the cover of People Magazine. Bet they never thought in a million years they would staring out at every check-out lane in America’s grocery stores.

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Last frame for today:

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This woman told me about the mormon hymn book she had taken with her to the shelter, “I’m so glad I had this with me.”

YFZ Revisited – April 14, 2008 – Media at YFZ

More photos from the first ever FLDS media opportunity at the YFZ Ranch, this time focusing on the journalists and media that were there.

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You know how I said before that it turned into a mix and mingle? See:

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Marie got a lot of attention. She was obviously very distraught over her three young children being taken away.

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One reporter gave her a hug:

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At one point I started watching a reporter asking Sally questions about the claims of child-brides and criminal activity among the FLDS living on the ranch. She wouldn’t answer and kept trying to keep the conversation on the children being taken away from their mothers, but the newsman kept pursuing his line of tough questions. Finally she couldn’t take it anymore and put her head in her hands:

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Here is the rest of the sequence as Sally walked off on the reporter. This happened fast, two seconds tops:

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YFZ Revisited – April 14, 2008 – On The Ranch

My timing is perfect. I spend the weekend at home, soaking up family time. Monday I fly back into San Angelo and just barely pick up my rental car when the phone rings.

“The women have been kicked out of the shelter, separated from their children. Get to the ranch immediately. The FLDS are going to let us in.”

Wow. Can you even imagine the idea of the FLDS holding a press conference, let alone letting us onto their sacred YFZ Ranch? The place where they’ve built their temple? To think that just a few days ago my helicopter ride over the YFZ was the best access I’d ever had.

I get there quick and a huge media convoy is lined up at the gate waiting to get in. We wait, and wait. An FLDS guy at the gate is keeping a list of which networks and newspapers everyone is with. They are keeping us waiting until a crew from a certain Utah news outlet shows up. The sun is getting lower and the national media are getting very cranky, complaining to the FLDS guy at the gate about making us wait.

I find out later that the people we were waiting for were at a grocery store filling prescriptions and buying oranges. I guess they didn’t know that CNN, the networks, and even People Magazine were waiting on them.

There are many photos from this first-ever FLDS media event. (It was the first ever, right?) So I’m just going to go through them in the order they were shot (and there will be more posts to come). Here’s what I saw when we drove onto the ranch and up to the building where everything would happen:

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These women had arrived back home at the YFZ Ranch earlier today after CPS separated them from their children.

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They lined up and watched as the media unloaded their gear and got set up. We were all unsure as to how this would take place. Up until now, the FLDS didn’t talk, so what would happen?

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Rod Parker (above) gave the women some tips, which from memory amounted to telling them to simply tell their stories. Parker advised all of the media to not stand too close and not crowd in on anybody. You know, not swoop in and swarm anyone like a big media pack will often do. We all agreed, but after a few minutes it was just a big mingle and everyone on all sides seemed okay with that.

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I started out photographing this woman as she told her story. Other women (mostly younger) stayed up on the balcony. Maybe they weren’t in any condition to talk about what had happened.

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I focused in on this woman, Sally, who was talking about how the women were separated from their children:

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Tears in her eyes.

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I’ve heard from people that they felt the FLDS didn’t seem to cry enough when talking about their kids being taken, that there were no tears in their eyes.

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I can only point out the situation as I have before: these are mothers who had their children taken away. Thousands of years of human history tell us that whether or not the removal of the children was justified or not, the mothers will be devastated.

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You can argue about the right or wrong of it. My role is to illustrate the story, nothing more.

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YFZ Revisited – April 9, 2008 – Hearing Going Out 2

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This kind of shot is something you pre-plan. You know they’ll be walking down the steps so you try to make it interesting. Also interesting, since this was the first hearing, none of the Texas media knew who this guy was, or that he was an FLDS member.

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He made it past the media pack and only one crew made any attempt to get him to talk. He didn’t. After he passed I went back to the steps for the next guy.

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It’s attorney Gerald Goldstein. No matter how many times he said he would only talk in the courtroom, reporters kept asking questions.

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Look at the mad scramble to get in front of him.

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Next to leave were these three.

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Mystery man in denim, Willie Jessop, and attorney Richard Wright.

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Later that night, over some Olive Garden take-out and a few long distance phone calls, we were able to name the mystery man. And don’t hate on the Olive Garden; It was our third day in San Angelo and we hadn’t yet found the good spots.

YFZ Revisited – April 9, 2008 Hearing Going Out

Here’s how the whole “coming out of court” would go for your typical FLDS witness or big player lawyer…

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At this first hearing we were allowed on the courthouse steps, so that’s the first shot. Most everyone else is waiting at the bottom of the steps, filming you as you walk down.

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Then there’s kind of a mad scramble as the cameras try to stay ahead of you:

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Some cameras leapfrog you.

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If you’re lucky you’ve got a big guy on your legal team who walks in front of you as a human shield.

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About half the cameras stop as you leave the courthouse property for the parking lot.

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But a few cameras stay with you all the way to your car.

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Soon they run back to the steps for the next subject and it starts again. Continue reading

YFZ Revisited – April 9, 2008 – Hearing Going In

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I show up late to the Tom Green County Courthouse and fire off this frame of the scene before running over to join the throng. There’s a hearing today on the legality of the raid. And you know, for the Utah media, this building being named after Tom Green is quite ironic. Tom Green was Utah’s most famous/notorious polygamist earlier in the decade.

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I’m not on this side of the cameras because I want to be on TV. It seems important to show the cameras, the amount of them, etc.

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On a story like this you try to photograph everyone going in, whether you know who they are or not. We knew who Willie was. The guy at center, we’d spend a good part of the day figuring out who he was.

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After the FLDS woman goes in, the waiting game begins. They have to come out eventually, so we sit and wait.

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A microphone stand is set up at the bottom of the courthouse steps and everyone adds their mic to the mix. When everyone leaves this hearing, no one will stop to talk.

YFZ Revisited – April 8, 2008 – FLDS Down Below

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There were a few FLDS members still on the ranch. Like the woman (or man?) in the photo above watching me with binoculars.

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Most were men, but then here’s a woman in a blue dress looking off a balcony.

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Here are four men walking to a building. Notice the numbers painted on the sidewalk. These were markings made by law enforcement to track the various buildings on the ranch.

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I started photographing this group of men…

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…as they walked across the ranch.

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They approached this building and gathered with others.